Sacramento Bee
August 2, 2004

Bush-bashing signs headed for area's freeways

by Tony Bizjak

The Freeway Blogger is coming to Sacramento. Caltrans won't be pleased.

You might have seen the mysterious blogger's handiwork in Los Angeles or the Bay Area: black and white signs - usually attached by coat hangers and bungee cords to freeway overcrossings - taking the Bush administration, and certain motorists, to task over the war in Iraq.

Examples: "Rumsfailed," "Quagmire Accomplished," "Osama Bin Forgotten," and "Real Soldiers Are Dying in Their Hummers So You Can Play Soldier in Yours."

The Freeway Blogger has hung, by his count, more than 2,000 signs on California freeways in the last year.

The word is he'll do his first serious "signing" of Sacramento's travelways this week, probably with the assistance of some locals calling themselves the "Dawn Patrol."

Politics aside, the Back-seat Driver was intrigued by this notion of freeway overpasses as a personal message board.

Through an intermediary, we contacted the blogger. "Blog" is really an Internet term for message boards - or Web logs - that allow Joe Average to offer the world his unfiltered opinion.

Why, with the Internet available, would this guy choose this more difficult route - especially since some of his signs are torn down the same day he puts them up?

The blogger wouldn't tell us his name. He said he's in his early 40s, lives in the Los Angeles area, once ran a charity for the poor, and is interested in politics and free speech.

He says he felt stymied when he tried to speak out after Sept. 11. The local newspaper didn't publish his letter to the editor. He called some radio talk shows, but the hosts cut him off.

He looked for another vehicle for his views. The Internet, he decided, wasn't good enough. The people who find and read your Web site are the people who already agree with you, he said.


"The mainstream is what I need to reach out to," he said.

Where is the mainstream in California today? Yep, in their cars on the freeway.

Freeways are this society's town square, he said. "For better or for worse, that's where all the people are. You get a hundred people a minute, at least. There is no other venue where you can get that kind of exposure."

We're thinking it gives a new twist to the phrase "information highway."

But we need to ask the question: Is what he's doing legal?

Nathan Benjamin, a Bay Area attorney, filed a lawsuit two years ago against the state Department of Transportation for taking down an anti-war highway sign. Benjamin says he sees nothing in state law banning people from doing this.

In that court case, however, an appeals court ruled that overpasses are not a "public forum." Subsequently a judge ruled that Caltrans could take down signs if the agency felt they might cause a safety hazard, but Caltrans must then take down all signs, or none. It can't pick and choose based on political messages.

Caltrans' stance, reiterated last week, is that signs on overpasses and freeway soundwalls are potential safety hazards.

"We don't allow anything up there," spokesman David Anderson said.

The Freeway Blogger contends his or other people's signs are no more a safety concern than the many billboards and commercial signs littering the roadsides - provided the banners are secured to the inside of the overpass fence so they can't fall onto the freeway.

He says he encourages anyone of any political point of view - left, right or whatever - to grab some cardboard and fasteners and make a statement.

"We feel it is our God-given and constitutionally granted right to post our messages on the interstates, freeways, or wherever the hell else we think people will read them, and we're willing to fight for this right all the way to the Supreme Court," he writes on his Web site.

"But you'll have to catch us first."